The only time I ever really feared for my life….
Was June 24th, 1983 at The Longshoremen’s Hall with The Dead Kennedys, DOA, Youth Brigade, Sin 34 and D.I. Here’s a little “backstory” to help set the scene for you. I had just turned 18 years old, was working at Baskin-Robbins for either $2.25 or $2.65 per hour (hey gas was only about a $1.20 a gallon so don’t feel toobad) and I had bought my ticket in advance, at Toxic Shock Records, for this upcoming gig. This line up was amazing and even though the presale ticket was $10.00 (a BIG amount back then) I was determined to go. I remember buying my ticket and leaving it inside the glove box of my 1981 Corolla (yes, the Red Scare) and “something” happening to it. My car was in the shop at the time or I lost it or something. I don’t remember exactly what but I do remember having to buy another ticket! With my minimum wage job that equaled about 8 hours of work for this gig. Shit! Maybe the gods were trying to tell me not to go to this one?
I was born and raised in Southern California and had probably never even heard of “Willmington”, a city about 10 miles outside of Los Angeles and where the Longshoremen’s Hall was located, until this gig happened. I’m sure I’ve never been back most likely. [Oh wait, my wife and I actually did go there to appear on the cover of The Creamers cd “Hurry Up and Wait” but we’ll save that for another story]. Oh, and let me also add I don’t think that Sin 34 actually played that night. I believe they were replaced by The Minutemen. As with all Dead Kennedys shows the place was packed. [Especially with a line up like this one].
The Longshoremen’s Hall was a pretty big place. Probably fit nearly 1,000 people? People were diving off huge 10-15 high stacks. I can also remember some nut-job jumping from one of those stacks and grabbing onto a big chandelier in the center of the hall swinging around like a monkey before he fell from it! This place was mayhem from the first band playing! I recall that my buddies; Brian, Rob, Ting and who else went with me that night? Can’t remember but I’m sure it was all the usual suspects… (Queeve, Gary did you guys go too?). As with all gigs we had a plan; “If we get separated, meet at my car (The Red Scare)”. Good plan because that is exactly what happened when this place absolutely “erupted”….
I was standing to the left of the stage when The Dead Kennedys were playing. The Hall was laced with several small windows that lined the east and west of the Hall, along the upper part of the walls just below the ceiling. I also remember, very well, several metal folding chairs (that were folded and stacked) against the wall and near the side exit door. I remember actually hearing, above the band’s playing and Jello’s rants about the government, helicopters circling the building outside and seeing their spotlights periodically shining in through those small windows. You just knew all hell was going to break loose, it was just a matter of time…Before the Dead Kennedys could finish (which was norm) the thick metal front doors burst opened and cops in riot gear charged in.
This was about the same time those windows I mentioned were broken by tear gas cans as they were hurled inside by the police. All hell DID in fact break loose! My buddy Brian was standing near the front doors when the cops rushed in and was quickly punched by one of “L.A.’s finest” right in the throat. I have no idea what had happened to my other friends because the place turned into a sinking ship with no life boats! People were making a mad rush towards the side exit door where I was. This was no orderly exit friends. There was a real fear, all thanks to the asshole cops, and people were doing their best to make it to those (side) doors. The front doors were blocked by cops and unless you wanted a billyclub beating you were forced to get to get out from the side. Which is exactly what I was doing until people, in their panic, pushed those folded up metal chairs that were against the walls right in the way of the exit door I was at! People were physically pushing [hard] to get out and my feet got tangled up in the legs of a chair. I started falling towards the floor with HUNDREDS of panicked people rushing out right behind me and the room filling up with tear gas. I would have been trampled to death most likely if I didn’t grabbed onto the guy in front of me and basically have him “tow” me out of that place. I seriously thought I was dead.
When I made it outside I was truly shocked at what I saw. Dozens of cop cars lined the street, cops on foot chasing people down and a police helicopter circling about. The streets were flooded with angry punks, some throwing bottles at cops, [hi Rob!] and the rest running amuck through Willmington. And ALL because of the police. Unfortunately this occurence was not unusual at the time. It was a different world in the early 80’s. Cops and society were very ignorant about this movement called “Punk Rock” and it scared the hell out of most of them. Ah, the good old days huh? Until next time~ Doc